Although he was recently sent out to a full-season affiliate from extended spring training, Tyler Vail continues to work on developing an already impressive repertoire of pitches.
The 6'1'' right-hander worked with Oakland's minor-league pitching coordinator Gil Patterson for nearly an hour Thursday night in Cedar Rapids. It was a continuation of their work from the preseason and extended spring training.
"Whenever I throw with him we focus on the curveball and trying to get a nice grip for me that works," Vail said, whose arsenal already includes a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, changeup and breaking ball.
"I've had a grip for two months now that I've been working with. It's getting better, but it's still something we're working on."
Vail didn't use his curveball much in a 13-game trial in Arizona last summer as he adapted to a different baseball.
"I had a curveball in high school, but the seams on the ball are thicker so I threw a different curveball," he said. "I tried it here and it didn't work, so Gil worked with me on changing up the grip and making it sharper and more consistent."
Patterson's coaching must be working. Otherwise the A's wouldn't have sent the 19-year old to a full-season affiliate in May of his first full year as a professional.
Vail made his Burlington debut Monday, pitching 3.2 innings and allowing one earned run on five hits and striking out two. He was limited to 67 pitches as the organization works him into a starting role on the Burlington staff.
"I had a pitch count of 70 pitches, but the first inning I was jonesing to throw in front of a real fan base," Vail said.
"The goal was either five innings or 70 pitches, and I had hit 67 when I came out. It was an alright first outing and I felt good."
He's also excited about an increase in arm strength since becoming a member of the A's organization. After hitting between 92 and 93 miles-per-hour on his fastball as a senior, Vail has seen his velocity rise to as much as 95 this spring.
The former Pennsylvania prep has always put himself on the fast track, inking with the A's a short time after they made him their fifth-round pick in the 2010 amateur draft.
Although he had signed a national letter-of-intent with Maryland, Vail didn't really consider pitching in college.
"I was an average student and always knew I wanted to be a baseball player first over anything in the world," he said.
"When I got drafted, obviously I was going to go right away and not kid around with the A's that I was going to school. I wanted to get out of here right away and down to the Arizona League."
Vail was the latest signee of Oakland's scout of the year Jeff Bittiger, who recruits the area. Vail had been on Bittiger's radar for six years when the A's made Vail the 155th overall selection in the draft.
"I played with his son when I was 12," Vail said.
"I didn't really know that they were going to draft me and I was surprised when they picked me in the fifth round. I know how they use their minor league system and pitching, so I was pretty pumped for that."
He has seen that first-hand with the amount of tutelage he's received from Patterson, one of the best in the business.
Vail started 10 of his 13 games in Arizona last season, allowing 11 earned runs in 31.2 innings and striking out 29. He followed that up with an impressive stretch at the A's Instructional League, where he laid the foundation for an early season call-up to Burlington.
"I was surprised with how much work I got last year," Vail said.
"Then I was invited to instructional league and got about four or five starts there. The Arizona League got my feet wet for pro ball and then the instructional league showed me I can pitch with guys in High-A and Low-A."
Drawing comparisons to former Oakland farmhand and past Bittiger signee Vin Mazzaro, Vail features a similar arsenal that features a lot of downward movement.
"He has a sinking fastball and fastball movement like I have, so I think that's where the comparison comes from," Vail said. "I get a lot of movement downward and side to side. We also work with the same velocity."
Vail also features a care-free attitude and takes a simple approach with him to the ballpark every day.
"It's the same mindset – always have fun," he said.
"It doesn't matter where you're at, the back yard or in low-A. I haven't really changed much. It's just the same as in extended spring training, but now in a stadium. It was the same batters you faced all spring training and the same game you've played your whole life."